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BU researchers begin landmark Alzheimer’s study

Seeking volunteers from ages 55-90

Researchers at Boston University Medical Center are the first in the state to begin enrolling patients for a landmark national study designed to speed development of new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

The Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) is the first nationwide study to use biomarkers and neuroimaging on a broad scale to measure physical changes in the brain for the disease. The research is funded in part by a grant from the National Institute on Aging, with additional support from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

“This study is unprecedented in the level of cooperation that is taking place among investigators internationally and in its mission to provide open access to the international scientific community,” says Ron Killiany, an assistant professor of anatomy and neurobiology at the School of Medicine and co–principal investigator of the study.

MED is one of 60 centers across the United States and Canada to participate in the $60 million, five-year public-private partnership. Locally, Killiany adds, the inclusion of BU in this study was made possible in part through the support of Boston Medical Center’s department of radiology and MED’s Center for Biomedical Imaging.

The initiative aims to find the most effective methods for tracking physical changes in the brain and in body fluids during the course of the earliest phases of Alzheimer’s disease and to establish those methods as clinical standards, says Robert Green, director of MED’s Alzheimer’s Disease Clinical and Research Program and co–principal investigator. These standards would then be used to assess the effectiveness of new Alzheimer’s medications that could lead to more efficient trials and faster approval of medications.

The evaluation of people with memory problems or Alzheimer’s disease includes a battery of neuropsychological tests. According to Green, a MED professor of neurology and genetics, these tests take considerable time to conduct and must be administered repeatedly. Measuring physical attributes, such as brain size and brain activity, may help researchers detect changes related to Alzheimer’s sooner than conventional tests — possibly well before symptoms of the disease become evident in a person’s day-to-day life.

“These standards are urgently needed to facilitate clinical trials as potential Alzheimer’s drugs become ready for testing,” says Green. “We are very pleased to be participating in this important study and grateful to all those who volunteer in our efforts to find a treatment for this disorder.”

Nationwide, the initiative hopes to recruit 200 people with Alzheimer’s disease, 400 people with mild cognitive impairment, and 200 people with no known cognitive problems. Anyone aged 55 to 90 interested in participating in the study at MED should call Patrick Compton at 617-414-1196 or toll-free at 800-438-4380.